Get real about breastfeeding

When Bliss was a baby I wrote a series of posts about breastfeeding in public and reading back on them today has left me feeling very conflicted… there are things I still agree with and other things that amaze me about that season in my life just starting out as a new mum. At the time I didn’t know many other nursing mothers, but the debates raged around me about breastfeeding and covering up and so on. Because of this debate and because I had no idea what I was doing I bought into the idea that there were good and not-so-good ways and places to breastfeed. I also subconsciously bought into the idea that somewhere out there must be women who staunchly flaunted their right to breastfeed left, right and center – flashing people with glee anywhere and anytime they could. (For the record, I am yet to meet even ONE such woman, let alone a horde of them). I was not going to do that, no siree!! I would be…discreet!

Of course, this has huge implications for both the way I approached feeding Bliss and the way I spoke about breastfeeding.

What I didn’t understand was that breastfeeding women are concerned about one thing only – feeding their child.

I know, I was a bit slow.

Come to think of it perhaps there are two things breastfeeding Mums think about – feeding their child AND making sure any other children of theirs are not wreaking havoc or in danger somewhere.

While breastfeeding was (and still is) something I wanted to do as discreetly as possible – my boobs are huge enough as is, I really have absolutely no desire to expose myself to random strangers – I hadn’t met enough other nursing mothers to really “get” that talking about breastfeeding “discreetly” is completely ridiculous.

Breastfeeding is hard work, physically draining and quite demanding. While it offers a beautiful chance to connect with your babe, it’s first and foremost function is to feed a child. I am currently feeding Bluey up to 9 times a day and trying to parent two other older children at the same time. It is full on! Oddly this is the first time I have fully breastfed, choosing, for various reasons with the first two to incorporate one expressed feed into mix from quite early on. The idea that I, or any woman, would actually try to breastfeed in any way that wasn’t discreet simply boggles my mind! The idea that I would take a bottle of expressed milk somewhere so that I didn’t have to breastfeed in public not only astounds me, but it saddens me too.

This is something of a confessional post…and I wanted to share it with you because I have seen enough comments from women and men who think the way I used to. It’s well meaning but ultimately misguided. So for those who feel the way I used to, I would like to say that when it comes to breastfeeding, it really is simply about feeding a child, and when we talk about it in terms of being “discreet” we misunderstand this is a number of significant ways. When we talk about breastfeeding discreetly we also put this enormous additional pressure on mothers, who by the way already spend all day everyday thinking endlessly about other people’s needs and comforts, to consider some elusive person who might be uncomfortable! I hope you would agree that that is really ridiculous.

When we talk about breastfeeding discreetly we ask mothers to consider whether they are doing the “best” job of feeding in public that they could – more pressure to do their best, to be their best (all for other people – this time, people they don’t even know!)  When I thought about breastfeeding in terms of being discreet I put myself under enormous and undue pressure to consider what was best for an elusive person who certainly wasn’t thinking about what was best for me.

It is only through those women who have made a stand and spoken up about this is, that has afforded women like myself the legal right to breastfeed my baby when and where I feel is best. Equally, it is only through speaking up that my daughter will have the chance to breastfeed whenever and wherever she feels is best without even having to think about it.

I still believe in community and in considering the feelings and needs of others around me but I no longer think that breastfeeding is something that routinely falls into this category and I now no longer think that the discomfort of another person should dictate to me how I feel about or go about feeding my children. When it comes to rights vs rights, I unequivocally and apologetically believe that a mother and child’s right to feed trumps another persons right to “feel comfortable.” I am a bit ashamed and very sad that this wasn’t completely obvious to me from day one.

A wonderful woman commented on my Facebook page today that “Those initial experiences… made me realise (that) my own thoughts on how I would make others comfortable in fact made me and my child uncomfortable.” – yes, thank you Carolyn! The idea that I would express a feed so I could give my baby a bottle instead of being comfortable to breastfeed horrifies me! The idea that this is even an issue in 21st century Australia is simply unacceptable. Speaking up is the only way that this and future generations can have the chance to never feel like that.

I have breastfed on planes, on trains, in the front of a parked car, at parties, in shopping centers  at cafes and restaurants. I have breastfed walking, lying down, sitting down, in the bath, in the shower. I will speak up, stand up, breastfeed and contribute to the public discourse on this topic because it really is that important.

Louisa Claire is a Melbourne mum of 3.  She blogs at Louisa Claire: The Mostly Truthful Tales of a Suburban Housewife